The blackened version is a Cajun favorite – you might see it as sushi, but almost certainly under a different name. The Snapper may not be as prominent as salmon or as exotic as swordfish, but its identity is one worth understanding, and its myriad preparations worth pursuing. We talked with Jon Alexis at TJ’s Seafood Market to understand the unique aspects and delightful versatility The Snapper has to offer.
Thanks for taking the time to chat, Jon. Can you give us a little background on the Snapper?
Sure. Snapper is a very popular Gulf fish. You’ll see it in other parts of the ocean, but it tends to be more popular in the Gulf of Mexico and areas around it. We use the term Red Snapper, but there are actually more than 20 actual species of snapper – It’s kind of like the Rock Fish on the West Coast.
The American Red, which is a true red snapper, is probably what most people think they’re getting when they order snapper. But there’s American Red, Vermillion, Queen – Queen happens to be my favorite. Queen Snapper is a cousin of what the Hawaiians call Madai snapper. There’s Mangrove Snapper, which people call Mango Snapper, and it’s got this orange, grayish-orange hue to it that’s really cool. You’ll see Beeliner Snappers, which are smaller, and you’ll see Yellow Tail Snapper. And those are just off the top of my head. Really, my point is that most people think snapper is one species of fish when it’s actually a family of fish.
As for the flavor, I think what people like about snapper is it’s mild, but it’s not bland. There are fish that are super, super mild that, to me, don’t have a lot of taste – I put tilapia in that category. Snapper, though, has some nice, fresh flavor to it.
Is there a particular environment to find it?
You can find snapper from the coast to out in very, very deep water – and in the deeper water they’ll be bigger. You’re more likely to find Beeliners and smaller one-pound snappers by the coast. A lot of the snappers you see commercially available are like two or three pounds, but I actually prefer to get bigger snappers. I think with a 10-pound snapper, you’re able to do more with it – you can cut it into steaks as opposed to just a 12-ounce filet, which is a little too big for one person and a little too small for two. But once you get into those big 10, 15-pound snappers, you get some really, really nice cuts. And that’s another thing that’s cool about snapper: you can utilize the whole fish. The collar is great eating, and in the bigger fish you can get some nice stuff on the tail.
So it’s pretty easily caught and readily available?
Well, one of the things about snapper is that it doesn’t reproduce that fast and has been over fished to a degree. The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) sets the catch, and they keep pretty tight quotas on snapper, so sometimes snapper will just not be readily available in Texas. And it’s not a seasonal thing, it’s that they’re at their quota.
One of the things that was good for it, though, was that Paul Prudhomme took Red Drum and helped popularize it as Redfish, and that has really helped relieve some of the stress on the snapper population. The drum, what we call Redfish, used to be considered trash fish, and there’s just so much of it. Paul Prudhomme was the first big name to take it and say, ‘Let’s call it Redfish and blacken it with my Paul Prudhomme’s magic seasoning, and turn it into a gourmet dish.’
Now, redfish is just a popular as snapper – you see redfish on the menu at a restaurant, and maybe you’re just as likely to order that as the Red Snapper, whereas it used to be that Red Snapper was the money fish, and redfish was the trash fish.
So what’s the best way to eat it?
Well, it’s one of those classic white fish that people feel very comfortable with; there are a number of preparations that are really good; snapper is so versatile. It’s hardy enough to stand up to the grill. It’s light enough to be cooked in parchment paper or steamed – steam it with a little bit of soy, ginger and lemongrass, and it comes out awesome. It’s even great as sushi. A really neat way to cook it is called ‘on the half shell.’ On the half shell is where you leave the skin and the scales on one half, and then as you cook it the scales kind of curl up and it creates what looks like a little bowl – that’s a cool way to do snapper.
What’s your favorite way to have it?
I really like blackened snapper. I love the Gulf Coast so much, it’s such a comfort food dish to me.